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Post-Election Blues

Ever tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

Those are the words of playwright Samuel Beckett, and they serve as a reminder of a big lesson that many adolescents must learn: Even though losing sucks, it is important to embrace loss and learn from it.

The pain of loss sits heavily in the air after the recent presidential election. In its aftermath, the Canadian immigration website crashed under excessive traffic, and callers overloaded crisis help lines across the country. Though they may seem extreme, the reactions we are witnessing in the aftermath of this election are consistent with the findings of past studies: Elections are not just about policy. Rather, the parties and candidates that we support are often an important part of our identities. Our partisan beliefs don’t only define us socially, but also influence us deeply on an emotional level. When our candidate of choice loses, we feel that our very identity has been rejected or is under threat. Research even goes as far as to suggest that the emotional impact of national tragedies, such as mass shootings, is significantly less than the impact of a political loss.

So, how can young people healthily cope with this pain? The good news is that strong feelings of loss from elections don’t seem to affect us in the long term, and according to research should start to taper off after about a week. Providing and getting support is especially important right now because the hurt of losing this election is amplified by the messages of hate associated with the campaign. As a psychologist, I have been seeing a spike in anxiety and depressive symptoms since Tuesday, November 8th. I have been working with adolescents daily, helping them cope with what to them is a crushing loss. The results of this election have struck fear in the psyche of many adolescents and adults alike. Many teens feel like they are going backwards in time, to a place of injustice, a place that they feel is unknown to them. Teens should know that it’s normal to feel strongly during this time, and that it’s healthy to truly experience those emotions, rather than burying or ignoring them. Talking about feelings of loss and anxiety with friends, loved ones, or a professional therapist can help adolescents process their thoughts.

Even in this climate of fear, models of resilience are not hard to find. Actor Jennifer Lawrence recently composed a message urging all: “Don’t be afraid, be loud!” Don’t let the painful feeling of loss control you, but rather use it to work for a better world.

I urge us all to learn to fail better, to maintain hope, and to continue the peaceful fight for peace and justice in our democracy.

Linda Escobar Olszewski, PsyD is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

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